In San Diego and elsewhere, people pick up unnecessary considerations when deciding how to protect themselves against the COVID-19 pandemic that spreads the coronavirus. The clues we pick up and the validations we get can be disarming and confusing, both of which can add to your risk of catching the disease.
Many sources seem reasonable, but cannot be trusted for lack of empirical evidence. You may drive by a restaurant and see a group of people not wearing masks. You might see President Donald Trump repeatedly appearing in public without a mask or holding a rally in which masks are encouraged, but not mandatory.
Such examples provide a mixed message or an erroneous one. You don’t know if anyone in the group you see in public has been tested, whether they are following hand sanitizing or social distancing during other occasions. You also don’t know if one of them is contagious, but without symptoms (what is called asymptomatic). Yet, it is tempting to think that the risks have diminished to the point where safety protocols are no longer needed.
These are very dangerous conclusions. The coronavirus is still among us and rising in many states where protocols were relaxed too early. What is proving to be a risky time and time again is the lifting of restrictions that throw people back into close contact. What is worse, the psychological aspects of restricted movements include the very real possibility that restrictions once lifted are very apt to have low compliance rates when authorities try to return communities to safety measures when they try to impose them after already relaxing them one or more times.
Think back on the early months of this pandemic – in April and March – when it didn’t even require mandated restrictions to get people to stay home. Stores were emptied of toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer, and even food in some cases. There was hardly a car on the road. My neighborhood seemed like a ghost town.
Gradually, people pushed back against the restrictions for social or economic reasons. Teenagers, feeling less threatened, began roaming the streets in small groups without wearing masks or staying six feet apart. With numbers of infected people staying steady or dropping, restrictions were lifted in carefully calculated stages.
From strictly a medical point of view, of course, lifted restrictions were considered very dangerous. The disease had not gone away and there was no vaccine yet available or even expected for many months or even a year or two away.
Predictable as it was, the number of cases rose again. For the first time in two months, the number of new cases in the United States rose above 64,000 in October, the first time it had done so since late July.
The Washington Post has graphs published on every state and the numbers are clear. Some states are holding their own, while others are reporting their highest daily infection rates since the pandemic began.
California is one of the states where numbers of new infections are much lower than the summer’s peak, but the state still follows the predicted path: When restrictions are lifted, the number of new cases jumps higher. On May 4, restrictions on some businesses were relaxed. By early July, numbers were soaring. By mid-July, most of the lifted restrictions on businesses were reinstated.
Having learned a hard lesson, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a new plan for reopening businesses, one that was considerably more cautious than the previous attempt.
In San Diego, internal medicine clinics are following guidelines to keep staff and patients as protected as possible. Masks are mandated and strict protocols are in place.
We urge our patients not to take their cues on safety measures from random sightings of other people in public or on television. Clean masks covering noses and mouths, social distancing, and frequent hand sanitizing is required. Guidelines on safety steps are available on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s web site.
Our San Diego Restorative Pain Management Center and Internal Medicine practice is operating safely and will continue to do so throughout this prolonged ordeal. We are in this for the long term and urge the public to consider this pandemic on its terms rather than yours. The disease will react to whatever social environment we use to confront it and, don’t be fooled. Safety measures are the best individual response to keep you and your loved ones healthy.